I can’t think of an author who is more reliable, quantitatively or qualitatively, than W.E.B. Griffin. He has written (or, more recently, co-written with William E. Butterworth IV) over 50 novels, spread across six different series and dealing extensively with everything from infantry and espionage during World War II to Vietnam, modern-day counterterrorism, and the day-to-day battles fought without fanfare on the streets by the Philadelphia Police Department.
You can pretty much take anything Griffin has written, hand it to someone who wants to be initiated into the joys of thriller fiction, and say “try this” to make a fan and a friend for life. One can sense from their writing that both Griffin and Butterworth are solidly grounded, possessed with a dead-on, clear-eyed and clear-headed knowledge of the world and its workings (those who seek unicorns to inhabit their worldview might be happier elsewhere), and their protagonists are filled with the same, right stuff.
"THE LAST WITNESS is equal parts thriller and crime novel, but it is a cautionary tale as well. Ignore it at your peril --- or read, enjoy and learn."
THE LAST WITNESS is the 11th installment in their Badge of Honor series, dealing with the men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department, specifically with homicide detective Matt Payne. The plot, as happens with many of Griffin and Butterworth’s novels, is complex but straightforward. Payne is vacationing in Florida with his fiancee, Amanda Law, when a home invasion in the fashionable Society Hill area of Philadelphia results in the fiery death of a young woman and sends the sole witness --- Margaret “Maggie” McCain, the homeowner --- hurriedly into hiding. It turns out that Maggie and Amanda are friends, both know people in high places, and Payne finds himself assigned to the investigation.
What develops is the makings of a world-beating police procedural, moving from Philadelphia to Florida, Texas, the Virgin Islands and beyond. The reason for this is the presence of international baddies. The home invasion is tied to the Mexican cartel, which in turn is using Philadelphia as a staging area for illicit traffic of drugs and women. The Russian mob is in the mix as well. What Payne needs to do to unravel the threads and bring the doers to justice while shutting down their operations --- at least for a while --- is to find Maggie, the “last witness” of the piece, before the bad guys with the long reaches do. Payne is not without resources, but his biggest problem is finding someone who, out of self-preservation, simply does not want to be found. A hard target in the classical sense, indeed.
The Griffin/Butterworth team tells it like it is. The presence of Russians in organized crime is at an epidemic level in the United States, with involvement in everything from strip clubs and the women who perform in them to pawn shops and construction. As for the Mexican drug cartels, they have been operating with impunity on this side of the border for the past five years, and in areas as close to the Canadian border as to our southern one. THE LAST WITNESS is equal parts thriller and crime novel, but it is a cautionary tale as well. Ignore it at your peril --- or read, enjoy and learn.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 9, 2013